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China has debated attacking Taiwan-controlled islands, Taiwan official says

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November 4, 2021

By Sarah Wu

TAIPEI (Reuters) – A top Taiwan security official told lawmakers on Thursday that China had internally debated whether to attack Taiwan’s Pratas Islands but will not do so before 2024, the year President Tsai Ing-wen’s term ends.

National Security Bureau Director-General Chen Ming-tong did not say how he knew that such a move had been debated or why it would not happen during the next few years.

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China’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Taiwan, a self-ruled island claimed by Beijing, has complained for over a year of repeated sorties by China’s air force, often in the southwestern part of its air defence zone near the Taiwan-controlled but lightly defended Pratas Islands.

Lying roughly between southern Taiwan and Hong Kong, the Pratas are seen by some security experts as vulnerable to Chinese attack due to their distance – more than 400 km (250 miles) – from mainland Taiwan.

China has blamed https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwan-reports-surge-chinese-aircraft-defence-zone-2021-10-04 Taiwan, and its most important international supporter the United States, for the simmering tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

“Attacking and capturing the Pratas Islands – this scenario where war is being used to force (Taiwan into) talks – our assessment is that this will not happen during President Tsai’s tenure,” Chen told a parliamentary meeting.

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Chen was responding to a question from a lawmaker in Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, on whether China would attack before 2024, when Tsai’s second term is set to end.

“Frankly speaking, they have internally debated this before,” Chen said, referring to China but without elaborating or mentioning when such a discussion occurred. “We obviously have some understanding,” he said.

Taiwan’s presidential office referred questions on the matter to the National Security Bureau, which did not immediately comment out of office hours.

One scenario Taiwan authorities fear https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hongkong-security-taiwan-insight-idUSKBN26L1SR is that China could capture the Pratas Islands in a drastic escalation of tensions that could lead to a war, officials have said previously.

Taiwan has repeatedly said it wants to maintain the status quo with China, but vows to defend its freedom and democracy.

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Chen told lawmakers that while the situation is more tense than in the past, it had not reached the point of an actual attack on Taiwan. “In the next one, two, three years, within President Tsai’s tenure, it won’t happen,” he said.

In Washington on Wednesday, General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said China was unlikely to try to militarily seize Taiwan in the next couple of years, even as its military develops capabilities that would enable forcibly retaking the island.

(Reporting by Sarah Wu and Yimou Lee with additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Poor weather hampers search and rescue efforts at Indonesia volcano

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December 6, 2021

By Willy Kurniawan

SUMBERWULUH, Indonesia (Reuters) – Officials monitoring Indonesia’s Semeru volcano on Monday warned residents to remain vigilant after a deadly eruption over the weekend, as heavy wind and rain brought search-and-rescue efforts to a halt.

The tallest mountain on the island of Java erupted dramatically on Saturday, shooting a towering column of ash into the sky that blanketed surrounding villages. Fourteen people were killed and dozens more injured.

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Aerial footage showed roofs jutting out of an ashen landscape, while on the ground military officers, police and residents dug through mud with their hands to extricate victims.

GRAPHIC-Indonesia Semeru eruption

To view the graphic, click here: https://graphics.reuters.com/INDONESIA-VOLCANO/klvyknzmbvg/INDONESIA-VOLCANO.jpg

On Monday, the head of the Semeru Volcano Observatory, Liswanto, warned people to keep a safe distance from the mountain, amid reports anxious residents had returned to their homes to check on belongings and livestock.

“The status of Mt. Semeru is still at level 2, which means at this level, people need to be more vigilant because the potential threat is still there,” he said.

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More than 50 people had suffered injuries from the eruption, mostly burns. Lava flows destroyed a strategic bridge connecting two areas in the nearby district of Lumajang with the city of Malang.

In the Sumberwuluh area, where two trucks lay half-buried by volcanic ash, recovery efforts came to an abrupt halt because of strong winds, a Reuters witness said.

Public kitchens and health facilities have been set up for more than 1,000 people who have been displaced.

A trauma healing team to work with children affected by the eruption has been dispatched, CNN Indonesia reported, while hundreds of aid packages, including rice, blankets and clothes and other basic necessities have been sent to the area.

Semeru is one of more than 100 active volcanoes in Indonesia, a country that straddles the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of high seismic activity that rests atop multiple tectonic plates.

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GRAPHIC-The Pacific Ring Of Fire

To view the graphic, click here: https://graphics.reuters.com/INDONESIA-VOLCANO/zjvqkyeamvx/RING-OF-FIRE.jpg

(Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Karishma Singh and Gerry Doyle)

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Solomon Islands prime minister faces no-confidence vote after riots

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December 6, 2021

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare faces a motion of no confidence on Monday, after anti-government riots just over a week ago saw dozens of buildings burnt down and shops looted in the capital of the Pacific island nation.

Boats have been banned from Honiara harbour, and more than 200 police and soldiers from Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea are on alert, amid fears the vote could trigger another outbreak of violence.

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However, Monday’s motion is not expected to gain enough support from government MPs to pass, even though four of them resigned.

Church leaders called for talks between the national government and the most populous province of Malaita to resolve a range of domestic issues and a dispute over the switching of diplomatic ties to China from Taiwan in 2019.

Sogavare was “in the service of a foreign power,” opposition leader Matthew Wale said in parliament, accusing the prime minister of using money from China in a national fund to prop up his political strength before the vote.

“The prime minister is dependent on the National Development Fund (NDF) money to maintain his political strength,” Wale said. “How can he make decisions only in the interests of the Solomon Islands?”

Sogavare’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Citizens are angry at inadequate healthcare, prime land being taken by foreigners, and logging companies overriding local interests, Wale said.

The looting and violence that erupted November 24 must be condemned, he added, but said, “It pales in comparison to the looting that happens at the top.”

Anti-government protests spiralled into violence that killed four and destroyed large parts of Honiara’s Chinatown after Sogavare refused to speak with protesters who had travelled from Malaita.

The province has a history of disputes with Guadalcanal province where the national government is based, and opposed the 2019 switch.

About 1,000 people gathered in the provincial capital of Auki to listen to a livestream of the parliament session.

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A political aide to Malaita’s premier, Daniel Suidani, told Reuters it appeared the no-confidence motion would be defeated.

Suidani is expected to make an announcement on Tuesday outlining a referendum for independence for Malaita, the adviser, Celsus Talifilu, said by telephone.

Health minister Culwick Togamana backed Sogavare’s leadership amid the COVID-19 pandemic and said he should not resign. There have been 20 cases and no deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

China had agreed to upgrade the Solomon Islands’ hospital and universities, said South New Georgia MP Danny Phillip.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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U.S. condemns militant attack in Mali that killed 31

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December 6, 2021

(Reuters) – The United States “strongly condemns” a militant attack on a bus in central Mali that killed at least 31 people and wounded 17, the State Department said on Sunday.

Unidentified gunmen on Friday opened fire on the bus as it traveled from the village of Songho to a market in Bandiagara, 6 miles (10 km) away.

The villages sit in the heart of the Mopti region, an epicenter of violence in Mali fueled by insurgents linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

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“The United States strongly condemns the attack on civilians on Saturday near Bandiagara, Mali, which left 31 dead and 17 injured,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a written statement.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the Malian people and will continue to partner with them in their pursuit of a safe, prosperous, and democratic future,” Price said.

Jihadist attacks have surged across Africa’s Sahel region, killing thousands and displacing millions across Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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